The Wheels on the Bus: Rosa Parks
Small actions have great consequences
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage students to consider their role in social action (SEAL theme: Motivation).
Preparation and materials
- Set out four pairs of chairs, placed behind each other, sideways on to the audience.
- Prepare nine students to act as bus passengers. Five students wear large hats; four are hatless. One of the hatless students is Rosa Parks.
1. Leader: Rosa Parks was no one special.
Female student without hat (Rosa Parks) enters and sits on one of the third pair of chairs.
Leader: She was 42 years old and worked as a seamstress, altering clothes in a large store in Montgomery, Alabama. At the end of one hard day's work in December she was sitting on the bus, going home, thinking about nothing in particular.
Four students wearing large hats enter and sit on the first two pairs of chairs. They are followed by three hatless students who sit on the remaining three chairs iat the back.
Leader: The bus soon filled up. All the seats were taken when it halted at the next bus stop.
A student wearing a large hat enters, looks at the two pairs of chairs occupied by students with hats, and then moves to stand in front of Rosa Parks
Leader addresses the eight students.
Leader: OK, time to move, please. You four at the back. You know the law. If you've not got a hat you don't get a seat when the bus is full.
Three students without hats get up and stand behind the pairs of seats. Rosa Parks stays seated.
Leader: Did you not hear what I said? Get up, lady. Do it now, or I'll have to call the cops!
Rosa Parks stays seated.
Leader: If that's the way you want it. You're under arrest.
Pause, then Leader resumes talking to the audience.
Leader: Thank you.
Students leave the stage.
2. Leader: That's the story of Rosa Parks, a story I'm sure you've heard many times before. It's the story of a very simple action: Rosa's refusal to give up her seat on the homebound bus. Her refusal was a spontaneous act. She hadn't got on the bus planning to do anything dramatic. She had simply got on the bus as an African-American lady and decided she was not going to give up her seat to someone else because he or she was white. The problem was that she was breaking the laws of segregation that operated in the state of Alabama exactly 60 years ago. She made the decision to break the law, knowing she would get into trouble, because she believed that segregation on the grounds of colour was wrong. She was challenging that set of laws.
3. It was on 1 December 1955 that Rosa Parks made her historic bus journey. She was arrested, convicted and fined. She appealed her conviction and was supported by the African-American community of the city. To support her, a boycott of buses was organised. African Americans either stayed away from the city and work, or walked rather than travel by bus. Empty buses clogged the streets because they'd lost the majority of their passengers. The Bus Boycott lasted for 381 days, more than a year, before the law was repealed and buses were desegregated.
Time for reflection
Leader: Rosa Parks was no one special. She felt the injustice of racial inequality and wanted something done about it, but wouldn't be called an activist. Maybe she was tired that day 60 years ago. Maybe she just snapped. For whatever reason, she had the courage to take a stand.
Do you feel a sense of injustice about anything: in your own life, here in school, in your community, in the world? How far do you need to be pushed before you'll do something? Do you have the courage that Rosa Parks displayed? One of the main reasons many people don't take a stand is because they fear the isolation. It's not easy to stand alone, to take the criticism, the abuse, maybe even the punishment.
Rosa Parks made an important discovery when she took that stand. She discovered that, far from being alone, she was one of thousands, even millions, who were tired of the injustice of segregation in the southern states of the USA. The Bus Boycott led to marches and other forms of peaceful protest. With Dr Martin Luther King at the head, the Civil Rights Movement grew so strong that eventually the laws of the country were changed, giving equal rights to all people, regardless of race, religion or colour. Yet without Rosa's original protest action, by staying seated on that bus, it's questionable whether anything would have happened.
There are many injustices around us. Even in a democratic country like ours, people are bullied, abused, hurt. Maybe you could be the one who initiates change for the better.
Thank you for our sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice.
Remind us of the opportunity each one of us has to be the one who takes a stand.
May we have the courage, like Rosa Parks, to begin change for the better.
‘If you miss me at the back of the bus’ by Thea Gilmore